A day in the life of a self-publisher

4th January 2022 by Frank West0

For many people around the world today marks the first working day of 2022 and as the new year begins it is time for me to reflect on how I spend my time. While many companies will grow by hiring more staff and delegating different tasks to team members, I focus on self-improvement. How can I become more efficient, what new skills can I learn, and what is eating up the most of my time?

As part of this reflection I added game submission, donation request, and job application pages to this website in the recent update, as I get asked about these a lot.

Three types of tasks

Everything I do can be broken down into one of three things:

  • A day-to-day task which keeps the company running
  • A project cycle task which adds something new to the company, most typically a game or expansion.
  • A repeat task which will happen at specific times throughout the year.

Typically, the day-to-day tasks make up (at least) my morning and project cycle tasks fill the remaining time. If I have a repeat task to do it will take priority over the project cycle tasks for the day.

Day-to-day tasks

Every day I wake up and check my emails, at the time of writing this I typically receive 200 – 250 emails a week and this number is always increasing. I keep track of common requests and streamline where possible, either by adding a page to this website, or using gmails email templating system to pre-write responses.

  • I immediately fulfil any tasks that won’t take more than 1 hour, these include paying invoices, responding to support requests, and updating various partners.
  • If I need to wait for something to happen prior to being able to respond to an email I will use the snooze feature in gmail to hide it until the following morning. If I’m going to have to wait a while, I’ll send a quick response saying it will take a few days and then snooze the email.
  • For any tasks that take more than an hour, I’ll schedule these in to the day and work my way through them once the rest of the emails are cleared. On days where I have a lot planned and they aren’t urgent, I may snooze them for up to 24 hours but never more than 2 days.

I take this approach as I have to keep my inbox at zero, I can’t leave it to pile up as otherwise it causes too many distractons with constant throughts running through the back of my mind.

With the emails done, I’ll check over Facebook, Twitter, BoardGameGeek, Instagram, YouTube, Kickstarter, and gamefound for any notifications and messages and respond to them all.

On a typical day if you exclude the larger tasks it takes 1.5 – 2 hours to get this done, I will then keep an eye on my inbox throughout the day and if anything important comes in I’ll respond immediately, otherwise it will be left for the following morning to not disrupt other tasks.

Project cycle tasks

Over the years I have learned the best way to be efficient, reduce mistakes, and to enjoy my job is by working in project cycles. In the project management world this would be known as the waterfall approach as I breakdown the creation of a product into tasks and then complete those tasks in a logical order.

Once my day-to-day tasks are done, I look at my currently project cycle tasks and get started. For a new game, here are the stages I work through:

Stage 1. Designing the game which includes prototyping, iterating, and playtesting.

Stage 2. Organise artwork, do the graphic design, and write the rulebook. During this stage I’ll also start getting quotes from the manufacturer to see if any components can be refined to be more cost efficient.

Stage 3. Create a marketing strategy for crowdfunding, produce final prototypes, record videos, book in any third parties I am working with, and get ready to announce the game. At this point I finalise manufacturing quotes, get samples of all non-paper pieces, get shipping estimates, and notify my fulfilment partners of what to expect.

Stage 4. Announce the game, run the crowdfunding campaign, and make sure I’m fully available to respond to messages. During peak periods of campaigns, I can receive over 1,000 messages a day and I always make sure everything is responded to in less than 24 hours. With the project live I also reach out to my distributors and start securing orders for the upcoming print.

Stage 5. Send files to the printers, finalise production, and begin the manufacturing process. Typically, the pledge manager or late-orders system will launch, and I’ll begin talking with translation partners about their interest in translating the game. I never print translated games with the first English print.

Stage 6. Manage the shipping of the games to get them to my warehouses around the world and then fulfilling the orders to backers, retailers, and distributors. I currently have warehouses in USA, China, Australia, UK, and Germany.

Stage 7. Supporting the release, making sure the FAQs are updated in real time as questions come in, marketing the game to raise aware, and organising reviews. There is typically a surge in replacement part requests around this time as a large amount of people will get the game all at the same time.

Each of these stages can vary in length, some will take a month and others will last for 6-months, it all depends on the size of the game and several other factors. While I try very hard to complete a stage before moving onto the next one, sometimes there is a little overlap where a stage is 90% complete and I’m waiting on a few things to happen, so I get started on the next stage in the meantime.

I’ve never had more than two project cycles on the go at any one time and typically aim to release two things every 12-18 months, that includes both games and expansions.

Repeat tasks

Outside of my project cycles there are also many other things to consider, these include:

  • Accounts, each month I must make sure my accounts are all updated and various tax returns are submitted.
  • Conventions, typically I attend at least 4 conventions a year and must organise volunteers, travel, accommodation, and make sure my schedule is free to attend.
  • Reprints, I normally have 2 or more prints on the go at any given time and need to check samples, make sure everything is on track, and keep distributors and translation partners stocked.
  • Marketing, with only 1 or 2 releases every 12-18 months it’s important I maintain constant presence online through various marketing activities otherwise it’s easy to be forgotten between releases.

Summary

I am very lucky to enjoy my job so much and to be able to be both a creative and someone who manages a business. For the first few years of running The City of Games I worked about 80 hours a week but through constant refinement I’ve brought this down to about 60 hours which I am more than happy with. These days I even find it hard to define what is work and what is not as even when I’m done for the day I like to tinker around with ideas, playtest new concepts, or read about what others in the industry are doing.

While it’s impossible to share every task I have to perform, I hope this article has given you a good insight to my life as a self-publisher and how I approach my day. I’m more than happy to answer any questions in the comments below and would love to know if you have any tips for managing your tasks.

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!


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